RBS-owned NatWest freezes bank accounts of Russia Today

The Royal Bank of Scotland group's NatWest arm has frozen the UK bank accounts of Russian state broadcaster Russia Today.

RBS-owned NatWest has closed the UK accounts of Russia Today
RBS-owned NatWest has closed the UK accounts of Russia Today

The move sparked anger from the broadcaster, which accused the bank of curbing "freedom of speech" and claimed that it could be the beginning of new British sanctions against Russia.

The British Government, however, has insisted the decision was " a matter for the bank".

In a letter to RT, published on the broadcaster's website,NatWest wrote: “We have recently undertaken a review of your banking arrangements with us and reached the conclusion that we will no longer provide these facilities."

It added: "We assure you that we have reached this decision after careful consideration, however our decision is final and we are not prepared to enter into any discussion in relation to it."

It is understood that the money in the accounts has not been frozen and can be withdrawn. NatWest said the accounts would be closed by 12 December and added that any remaining money would then be returned to RT in the form of a cheque.

RT's editor-in-chief Margarita Simonyan said on her Twitter account: "They closed our accounts in Britain. All of them. ‘Decision not to be discussed’. Long live freedom of speech!”

She added in an interview: "Hypothetically, this may have something to do with new British and American sanctions against Russia, which may be announced soon. It may not. Our legal department is dealing with the issue now."

In a post on Facebook, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said: “Britain on its way out of the EU abandoned all its commitments to protect the freedom of speech.”

A statement from RT added: “This decision is incomprehensible, and without warning. It is however, not at odds with the countless measures that have been undertaken in the UK and Europe over the last few years to ostracize, shout down, or downright impede the work of RT. RT UK will continue its operations uninterrupted."

UK Prime Minister Theresa May’s office has denied any involvement in NatWest’s decision.

"It's a matter for the bank and it's for them to decide who they offer services to based on their own risk appetite," a spokesman said.